Seneca students make an impact on sustainable development

Established in 2015, the 17 United Nations (UN) Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs) set ambitious targets to achieve a better future for all by ending poverty, fighting inequality and acting on climate change.

The Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development require nothing short of a worldwide effort to transform the economic, social, political and financial systems that govern our societies today. Nonetheless, to date, progress has been uneven and the global response has lacked an ambitious approach to implementing the SDGs. As a result, the most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer.

Higher education has a direct impact on the development of every country and is an essential component of a strong and sustainable education system.

Spurred by the status quo of sustainable development globally, Seneca’s International Mobility office, in partnership with the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship (FES), has been offering SDGs training as part of its annual International Development Week activities since 2018. With the shift to online learning, the 2021 program was transformed into a two-part, three-day virtual training with a newly added case competition that took place from Feb. 27 to March 1. The event’s aim was to educate and challenge Seneca students to act by devising solutions for Seneca’s future sustainability plans, addressing the role Seneca can play to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

More than 250 students, faculty and staff engaged in the virtual training and case competition from across Seneca campuses and academic programs. The two-day training provided students with knowledge and understanding of the SDGs and brought awareness to the history and structure of sustainable development, the SDGs, their targets and indicators, and many advocacy examples around the world including the experience of a UN official in transforming their organization towards the SDGs. Students also developed and strengthened their skills through a workshop focused on action, planning a community-organizing model to transform ideation into action. A moderated panel discussion further engaged participants on the role of higher education in sustainable development.

The event also included an inaugural Global Opportunities Fair with representatives from Seneca’s international academic partners, as well as Canadian and international nonprofit and non-governmental organizations working in sustainable development. The Fair showcased each partner institution/organization's programming and provided students with information on the study/work abroad opportunities available to them through Seneca’s International Mobility office.

Equipped with knowledge and skills gained from these two days of training, students dived into the 24-hour case competition, where they worked in teams of up to five students, with support from mentors, to devise action plans on what Seneca can further do to improve sustainability on and off campus. Their ideas were presented in three-minute video clips, collaboratively designed and produced by multi-disciplinary and diverse student teams working across time zones. The competition was supported by 19 mentors who provided guidance and support to student teams during the 24-hour challenge. In addition, 20 judges, internal and external to Seneca, diligently assessed the case competition video submissions.

A total of 36 video submissions were made by student teams, ranging with actionable ideas from all 17 SDGs. Video submissions were adjudicated based on how well student teams were able to apply the knowledge gained from the training event to the case solutions based on an action plan development framework. Following two rounds of evaluations, the panelists chose five winning teams for the case competition. We invite you to see the winning team videos.

Seventeen prizes were awarded, with each winning team member receiving a travel voucher valued at $1,000 to use toward a future global mobility opportunity when mobility programs resume. Student prizes were generously supported by Seneca Alumni, the Seneca Student Federation (SSF), MBNA and the Confucius Institute.

Through partnership with First Peoples@Seneca, Counselling and Accessibility Services and the Sustainable Seneca Committee, this event focused on increased participation of underrepresented students at Seneca.

This year’s event was funded by the Government of Canada’s Outbound Student Mobility Pilot Program, designed and administered by College’s and Institutes Canada (CICan).